What’s the origin of the 9/11 monument in the Healdsburg Plaza?

Along the eastern sidewalk of Healdsburg’s downtown Plaza Park, is a small concrete and steel monument. Built on site and dedicated in 2012, it is Healdsburg’s tribute to the lives lost on the East Coast on Sept. 11, 2001.

The monument was a community effort, spearheaded by retired Healdsburg Fire Engineer Ben Gilliam, who deeply felt the loss of 343 firefighters in New York.

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The concrete and steel 9/11 monument in Healdsburg’s Plaza Park was built by volunteers, dedicated in 2012 and includes a fragment of steel from the World Trade Center in New York.

“I had to do something, we had to do something,” said Gilliam, who learned that pieces of steel from the World Trade Center in New York could be acquired by community groups that wanted to create memorials.

Gilliam contacted the organization that had the steel, and soon a 90-pound piece was on its way to Healdsburg. “That’s when the community came together,” Gilliam said. A proper monument had to be designed and funded, and the City of Healdsburg had to approve the design and location.

Glen Schaezlein, then the instructor for the Construction and Sustainability Academy (CASA) at Healdsburg High School, volunteered to help. CASA students worked with Linus Lancaster’s HHS art students to conceive and design a monument.

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Retired Fire Engineer Ben Gilliam spearheaded the effort to install Healdsburg's tribute to lives lost during due to 9/11.

The final design was a five-sided concrete pillar (representing the five boroughs of New York City), set in a five-sided base. The concrete aggregate would include pieces of steel and glass and stone. The steel would be mounted on top.

The city approved the design and location, and local builders — organized by Jerry Eddinger — volunteered to build a form and pour the concrete monument in place.

First, Healdsburg Fire Department staff came and dug out the foundation for the monument.

“We want to be involved,” said now-Healdsburg Fire Chief Jason Boaz at the time.

CASA students, construction workers and community volunteers were involved in the concrete pour and final smooth finish. Welder Bud Pochini was thoughtful and reverent as he studied the World Trade Center artifact and thought about how to position it on the top of the monument. The final positioning resembles an open book.

“I moved it around and that spot was right,” Pochini said.

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A piece of steel sent to the Sonoma County Fire District from the NY Port Authority is mounted on two pillars commemorating 9/11.

On Sept. 11, 2012 the Plaza Gazebo (near the monument) filled with police and firefighters in full dress uniforms, for a dedication ceremony of the monument, called: “Healdsburg Remembers.”

While all volunteered their time, there were a few out-of-pocket materials costs, which were underwritten by former Healdsburg resident Fred Vellutini, who lost a relative on one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center. Vellutini also funded the war memorial “Little Boy “ statue a few feet away.

Gilliam originally hoped to hold another ceremony this year, to acknowledge the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, but decided that the pandemic made it unwise. He’s hopeful for next year.

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The Cloverdale Fire Protection District firehouse has a mural inside commemorating the loss of 343 firefighters on 9/11.

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